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Like a lot of people I first came across Carol Ann Duffy‘s ‘Words, Wide Night’ as a Poems on the Underground poster. I can remember exactly where I was: on the Jubilee Line between St John’s Wood and Finchley Road. I was travelling alone, and yes, it was night.

I was in that phase of trying to devour as much poetry as my time and income would allow. Finding this poem –and for free!– was a bit like the finger of God worming its way through the network of tunnels and affirming that decision.

In a tiny way, I felt like I had won the lottery.

There is not much to say about the poem that has not already been said on countless other blog posts. Years later I would find an exact description for how it felt, late at night and exhausted, to discover I was no longer alone, in the words of Billy Collins’s ‘Marginalia’: ‘I cannot tell you/how vastly my loneliness was deepened,/how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed’.

But at that moment all I knew was gratitude to this plain-speaking ten-line poem of ordinary words. I felt it was in love with the ‘pleasurable’ ‘singing’ of words as I was, as much as and even more than the ‘you’ of the poem. This felt like the poem’s true revelation and secret.

My hunch is that when poets meet the work of other poets, this is what they are looking for.

You can listen to a reading of ‘Words, Wide Night’ here

from The Other Country (Anvil Press, 1990)

Lifesaving Poems